Chris Rattue on sport

The latest sport analysis and comment from Herald columnist Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue: Barca's magic converts an unbeliever

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Barcelona wove a remarkable spell across Wembley Stadium in London, and their magic was working a treat on the other side of the world.

The sight of the Manchester United supremo Alex Ferguson sincerely congratulating Barcelona on their Champions League final victory yesterday was not nearly as unnerving as what was going on in our TV room.

Apart from tennis, my wife gives sport the sort of attention that John Key might reserve for The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.

But halfway through a match that was sinking fast as a legitimate contest, she stopped by and neither wild horses nor even a highlights package of Location, Location, Location were going to drag her away.

As Barcelona zipped around Wembley like fireflies, you could almost hear the theme music to 2001: A Space Odyssey in the background as a woman of no fixed sporting abode or interest became transfixed by the light.

At the end of Barcelona's breathtaking display, she reckoned that "the other lot", her euphemism for Manchester United, had been made to look like "buffoons".

"The cohesion and intricacy and delicacy of Barcelona ... ," she enthused, as I tried to pick myself up off the floor.

"Whenever one of them got the ball something magical happened."

As the medics slapped on the oxygen mask and pounded at my chest, she went on: "I really got something out of it. That was amazing."

This needed to be put in writing - so mission accomplished.

What is so out-of-the-ordinary about Pep Guardiola's Barcelona is that their demolition job on the English Premier League winners - champions of the world's most famous sports competition - was not out of the ordinary at all.

Barcelona, and the World Cup-winning Spanish team they inspire, play this way all the time.

Passing relentlessly through millionaire opponents is par for the course. When the opposition do obtain the ball, Barcelona swarm like a pickpocket gang around lost tourists, quickly relieving them of possession and any fanciful notions.

Barcelona have spent decades breeding a team to do this, and have achieved what until now was probably regarded as impossible in soccer. Other fine teams can play a la Barcelona in small patches, but not for nine minutes, let alone 90 minutes.

With Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and co pulling endless strings, Manchester United unravelled. Barcelona made Manchester United look like Stoke. The Stoke reserves.

As the game flew towards the final whistle, you imagined that Barcelona would celebrate in a nice hotel while the other team returned home, contemplating the week ahead as butchers and posties, still dreaming of professional contracts.

Manchester United lost 1-3, but no one could have complained if Barcelona had won by six. Or eight. The scoreline was irrelevant, because nothing was so wide as the gulf between them.

As FIFA descends deeper into scandal, the ugliness of the World Cup - both on and off the pitch - is becoming harder to ignore alongside the glitter of club soccer (and other international competitions such as the the European championship).

Why bother making such a fuss about the World Cup, which continually descends into dross and is run by charlatans.

The great soccer finals do not happen on the world stage, where the players turn into actors. There was the odd incident of skulduggery but nothing too distracting yesterday, and only one dive to speak of, performed by a man in Manchester United colours.

In contrast, the last two World Cup finals have been a disgrace. Even Holland, the country that first imagined what Barcelona has perfected, turned last year's finale in South Africa into a splatter movie.

Ferguson was powerless to make changes that would have changed anything at dear new Wembley. Even Wayne Rooney's celebration of a wonderful first-half goal was completely out of context.

Okay, by normal soccer standards, Rooney was entitled to invite the accolades. It was a brilliant strike.

Rooney slid to earth and embraced the heavens, supposedly announcing that Manchester United were back in the hunt, but in reality the turkey shoot was still on.

Barcelona owned the ball and Manchester United could barely string three passes together. Completely unaffected by the venue and occasion, the Spaniards were playing away from home even better than Ryan Giggs.

It was a marvellous sight, absolutely marvellous and Barcelona are the finest soccer team you will ever see.

So thank you Barcelona, from the bottom of a sports fan's heart. You performed a miracle, and not only at Wembley.

WEEKEND WINNER

South African rugby notches another World Cup confidence builder on our soil as the Lions roar home against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

WHAT TO WATCH

Blues v Chiefs - a Super 15 local derby at Eden Park on Saturday night.

- NZ Herald

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